I have two cats, Foxy and Florence, ages 8; they are brother and sister from the same litter. They had a bit of a rough start. Their mother was killed by a car before they opened their eyes. But a kind soul took them to a veterinary clinic where they were bottle-fed and then spayed and neutered at the appropriate time. They got their “forever home” with me.
Foxy is a reasonably mellow gent; Florence, however, is a nasty cat. She craves attention, but when I stroke her, she will lash out with an unsheathed paw, and sometimes draw blood. If I am sleeping and have a hand resting on the pillow, she will bite my fingers. I have worn slippers to bed for the past eight years because she comes under the covers and bites my toes.
I am wondering why one sibling would be a nice fellow while the other would be a little (ahem…!) “witch.”
— Nancy, Queens Village, New York
Whether pets or people, two siblings, born from the same parents and raised virtually in the same way, can turn out very differently. That’s because kittens’ personalities are determined more through play with their littermates or other kittens than through their upbringing. Florence is just a more dominant personality, but it’s not acceptable that she bites you and draws blood when you pet her.
Cat behaviors can be more challenging to change than dog behaviors, but there are steps you can take to reduce her aggressive behavior.
Steps you can take to reduce your cat’s aggressive behavior
- First, know her touch tolerance level. Some cats find petting overstimulating, and can only handle a few strokes before lashing out. Determine how many strokes she can handle before she strikes, and stop petting her short of that limit.
- Second, don’t use your hands to play with her. Use wire and feather toys that enable you to keep some distance. She needs to learn body parts are not for play.
- Next, you can wear slippers to bed, but it’s important to set boundaries for her. Even though she thinks she is playing, she needs to know when the action is getting too rough. The quickest way to show your displeasure is to make a quick “hissing” sound when she lashes out. Cats hiss to tell others to back off, so she will know what this means.
- Finally, use plug-in feline pheromones around the house to calm her. If none of these things reduces her triggers, then talk to your veterinarian about behavioral medicine that can reduce her aggressive tendencies.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal